EMTs are usually one of the first responders on the scene at car accidents, fires, natural disasters, and other emergent medical emergencies. And with a fast-growing job market, it is no wonder why more and more people want to become certified emergency medical technicians.
So how long does it take to become an EMT? What’s the difference between an EMT and a Paramedic?
Keeping reading to find out how long it takes, how much they make, and how you can get started.
What Is an Emergency Medical Technician?
An emergency medical technician, or EMT, provides emergency medical care for the sick or injured. The career is high-stress and can take a physical and emotional toll on those who choose it.
However, being a provider of emergency medical services is highly rewarding. Being an EMT offers an opportunity to give back to the community firsthand and help our most vulnerable populations.
Certification for emergency medical service providers can be stratified into three levels:
Each role requires its own set of coursework and examinations.
EMT vs Paramedic
The primary differences between an EMT and a paramedic are:
- paramedics have 1,200 to 1,800 additional hours of training
- paramedics are trained to insert IV lines and perform intubations
- paramedics can administer drugs and perform other advanced life support
EMTs are trained to deliver basic medical care and CPR to persons in need of emergency medical assistance. The day-to-day responsibilities of an emergency medical technician might include:
- Responding to calls for emergency medical assistance
- Assessing patients in need of emergency medical assistance
- Helping stabilize and treat patients in need of emergency care
- Delivering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), medication, and other stabalizing treatments such as controlling bleeding, and preventing shock or futher injury to patients
- Communicating clearly with hospitals about the condition of the patient being transported
- Moving patients between their homes or medical facilities
- Maintaining patient records
A paramedic is the highest level of EMT certification. Prospective paramedics might work as EMTs for 12-24 months to gain experience before undertaking the 1,200 to 1,800 hours of training to become a paramedic.
In addition to the duties of an EMT, a paramedic might also:
- Triage medical care in the field to ensure the most severely injured patients receive care first
- Create airways for patients who cannot breath
- Provide medication through an intravenous (IV) injection or infusion
- Stick needles in the chest to decompress collapsed lungs
- Use a defibrillator to restore a normal heartbeat
- Provide breathing support through ventilation devices
- Deliver babies in an emergency
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of an EMT in the United States was $36,650 in 2020 or about $17.62 per hour. And, according to Salary.com, as of March 29, 2021, the salary range typically falls between $32,770 and $41,290.
Depending on your experience, location, and certifications, your salary may vary within this range. For example, your EMT salary in California may be higher in the range due to the state’s higher cost of living.
Paramedics on the other hand enjoy a median annual salary of about $45,000. The salary range for paramedics usually falls between $40,484 and $50,509.
Who Can Become an Emergency Medical Technician?
Becoming an EMT requires certain skills and a strong academic background, so enrolling in an EMT training program is often quite competitive. At a minimum, applicants must:
- Be at least 18 years of age.
- Possess a valid driver’s license.
- Have completed at least 10th grade.
- Be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) from the state healthcare provider.
- Be fluent in English.
- Not have any criminal background.
- Have received vaccinations for measles, mumps, rubella, and tetanus.
Are Certifications Necessary to Become an EMT?
All EMTs must register with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians and pass the necessary exams before receiving recognition and certification.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Emergency Medical Technician?
The EMT certificate program consists of 120 to 150 credit hours and typically takes one to two years to complete. EMT basic training, which leads to certification, can take as little as three weeks and as long as two years depending on one’s professional goals and the state in which one plans to practice.
Most students who opt to become basic emergency medical technicians finish their coursework in 3-6 weeks, though up to two years of coursework is available if they wish to take on more responsibilities.
The EMT Basic course is usually offered at a community college or technical school. It prepares students to pass the licensing examination in their state.
What Do the Courses Cover?
The EMT Basic course covers human anatomy and focuses on reading vital signs, airway management, obstetrics and gynecology, shock and bleeding management, and head injuries. It will also be imperative to learn how to physically manipulate patients by practicing how to properly lift and move them, as well as how to deal with infants and children.
Most schools will also require a course in medical and ethical issues in healthcare. Most of the coursework will be limited to necessary information as the timeframe of a basic training course is rather short.
The coursework necessary to complete a basic EMT training course is not as challenging as those of other healthcare fields or that of an intermediate EMT or paramedic training course. Nevertheless, the curriculum contains lots of information crammed into a short period of time. Therefore, students need to stay focused and put in consistent effort.
On top of 120-150 in-class hours of coursework, hopeful EMTs must also get face time with patients. These interactions simulate mock emergencies where students become familiar with the equipment, practice patient assessments, and learn to deal with high-stakes situations.
This gives would-be EMTs hands-on experience in a controlled setting and a sense of what an EMT’s duties and responsibilities are. This portion of the training is highly practical and is a culmination of all the coursework that preceded it.
Are There Any Exams?
After an EMT student has completed all of his or her coursework and graduated from the program of his or her choosing, nationwide examinations must be taken.
The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) is responsible for the examination and certification of EMTs nationwide. It is through NREMT that potential EMTs will need to register for both the Cognitive Exam and the Psychomotor Exam.
Registration for these exams requires verification of the completion of an EMT program as well as an application fee of $70.
The cognitive exam is a computer adaptive test that covers all the subjects EMTs must know to be effective. These topics include the different pathways in the human body, which include respiration and ventilation through the airways, cardiology, and resuscitation, trauma to various parts of the body, obstetrics, and gynecology.
Questions asked during the cognitive exam will focus primarily on adult and geriatric patients rather than infants and children. Also, general EMS operations are tested.
The information tested on the cognitive portion of the exam corresponds with the in-class coursework taken during training.
If an applicant is unsuccessful in passing the cognitive exam, the NREMT will offer feedback for improvement. Applicants may retake the cognitive exam 15 days after the previous attempt for a total of six times. After three failures to pass, applicants must undergo 24 hours of remedial training. After six failures, they must retake the entire basic EMT course from the beginning once again.
The psychomotor exam is taken after the passage of the cognitive exam. The psychomotor exam covers the more hands-on aspects of being an EMT.
Interactions with a patient, including assessment, management of a trauma patient, and administering oxygen to a patient who cannot breathe are tested. Controlling bleeding and shock is an important section of this examination as well, as they are generally the first things EMTs must deal with.
In addition to working with the psychological aspects of patients, EMTs are also tested on more clinical parts of their job. These tests include:
- immobilizing long bone fractures and dislocations
- traction splinting
- upper airway adjuncts and suction
- mouth-to-mouth ventilation
- and other procedures EMTs must be thoroughly familiar with.
Just as the cognitive exam corresponds with classroom coursework, the psychomotor portion of the exam mirrors the hands-on experience that every student must undergo during basic EMT training.
After passing the national psychomotor exam, hopeful EMTs must also pass a state-level psychomotor exam and need to contact their State EMS Office or an instructor for further information.
Is There Room for Advancement Once I Am a Certified Emergency Medical Technician?
Basic EMT training is the shortest route to working in emergency medicine. Once you have obtained basic EMT certification, you may choose to work immediately or continue working up the ranks.
The next level up from basic EMT is intermediate EMT. This level requires an additional 300-350 credit hours of coursework and another set of examinations from the NREMT.
An intermediate EMT takes on more responsibility than a basic EMT and must be familiar with more advanced airway adjuncts, non-medical IVs, and the administration of certain drugs such as glucagon or Narcan.
A paramedic is the highest level of emergency medical response and requires a strong foundation in human anatomy and physiology. Paramedic certification usually requires a two-year associate’s degree.
Coursework usually includes anatomy, physiology, paramedicine, defibrillation, as well as other advanced medical procedures.
Because of the extensive training necessary, greater responsibilities, and high amount of patient contact, paramedics enjoy much higher salaries than a basic or intermediate EMT.
How Much Does EMT Training Cost?
Emergency medical technician training can take as little as three weeks for the most basic coursework, but dedicated students may take up to two years to earn an associate’s degree. The costs of these programs vary according to their length and content.
- A basic EMT course usually costs around $650.
- An intermediate EMT course usually costs an additional $800.
- A paramedic course usually costs around $3,500.
How Do I Pay for Emergency Medical Technician Training?
Going into a training program full-time can be a huge financial strain both in terms of the loss of wages while not working as well as the cost of the training itself. There are scholarships available from the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT). These scholarships help provide funding for hopeful EMTs who wish to serve our community.
- EMT-Basic students are eligible for up to $500.
- EMT-Paramedic students are eligible for up to $5,000.
- Paramedics looking to pursue advanced education are eligible for up to $2,000.
How Long Do I Have Certification Once I Receive It?
EMT certification lasts for two years. You must then renew your certification through NREMT. You may recertify online through the NREMT website.
If certification lapses with two years of expiration, applicants must complete an EMT refresher course before reapplying for certification.
If a certification has lapsed for more than two years, the applicant must provide proof of completion of an EMT training course, complete a refresher course, and retake both the cognitive and psychomotor examinations.
It is extremely important to maintain EMT certification once it has been awarded. You can check the status of your certification at any time through the NREMT website.